Beyond our comfortable, modernized sphere, the natural world is constantly under siege. Habitats disappear; technological developments surge forward; humans commodify nature for profit and consumption. At points, it seems that human and nature are locked in a hopeless, parasitic trade. Despite this fraught relationship, there exist moments of harmony between the human and natural realms. After all, human influence does not exist in a vacuum; human and nature will inevitably mesh, sometimes in unexpected ways. As such, the goal of this sub-exhibit is to show various moments of ecoacoustic harmony. These recordings highlight instances in which humans play a positive or benign role in the natural world. The following sounds may seem eclectic, but they show the ways in which human and nature can seamlessly blend together — creating brief moments of harmonious coexistence.
This is a sound recording of a band, made up of Furman University Students, warming up for a small concert. The concert took place in a partially cleared-out forest in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Travelers Rest is a small town that is known primarily for one road, Main Street, on which most of its attractions are located. Over the past five years, the town has become a popular area to visit for food and bike trails. This sound was recorded around 5:45 p.m., a time when Travelers Rest is usually populated with traffic and people. The venue is only around 100 yards from Main Street. Despite this close proximity, the venue feels untouched by the surrounding chaos. The forested area is completely isolated from the sounds of car traffic and construction. The venue is child- and pet-friendly, so I have intentionally kept the background noises of children and dogs crunching through leaves in the background.
The combination of the sounds from the instruments and the natural sounds of the leaves pose some interesting questions. Ursula Heise asks such questions in her article, A Hitchhiker's Guide to Ecocriticism: "In what ways do highly self-aware beings relate to nature? What roles to language, literature, and art play in this relation?" (Heise, 2006, p. 504). It is important for us to consider these questions so that we can better define and understand the impact of human influence on a natural soundscape. Ursula Heise concludes that there is no "correct" answer to her question. One constant, however, is the relationship between environment and sound. When the band performed a sound check in the partially-cleared woods, the natural location was the ultimate determining factor in how the instruments sounded. If the same instrumental sounds were performed in an empty room, the sounds produced would have been much different.
The sound of an ankle being taped is something that is familiar to anyone who spends time in the training room at Furman. This distinct sound falls under the realm of what we call ecoacoustics, “A science that investigates natural and anthropogenic sounds and their relationship with the environment,” because of what is really behind every roll of tape and every ankle that is taped (Ozga, 2017, p.416). The sound of the tape ripping and tearing is an anthropogenic sound, for the tape is manmade, and the action of wrapping tape around the human body is a somewhat normal part of sports medicine culture. What is usually not considered is how this tape intertwines with the environment. Two main reasons for taping an ankle are injury prevention and reinforcement for an already injured ankle. We find different ways to interact with our environment, however, our environment is not always so friendly. Sometimes an athlete will dig their cleat into the earth and cut too hard, resulting in a sprained ankle. Instead of not performing this task again, we find ways to protect ourselves from the environment. The tape helps us to deal with our environment and coexist. Though the tape is manmade, and it may seem to have an unnatural feel as it is an addition to the body, the relationship between the tape and the human body is a cooperative one. The tape is used as an agent to reinforce the ankle. The ankle and the tape intertwine to act as one. This harmony makes it possible for an athlete to perform to the best of their ability without worrying about the stability of their ankle. Also in this recording you can hear the everyday sounds of the training room in the background. To truly paint a mental picture of the landscape and environment this sound clip was captured in, you must listen with an ecocritical ear. It’s hopeless to hear a sound without paying attention to it and expect to get the full experience from the sound. Ingold emphasizes the idea of, “Attentive listening, as opposed to passive hearing…” (Ingold, 2007, p.3). If you listen ecocritically at full attention, you’ll hear the faint chatter of others attempting to be quiet in the background, the ripping of the tape, the sound of the trainers’ hands smoothing out the tape after every application, and of course, the soft tunes that are always playing through the speakers throughout the room.
This is a recording of individual soil samples being sifted and grinded after having been dried in a Burlese funnel system. This sound was recorded in the Plyler Hall Ecology Laboratory at Furman University while conducting a biological study on the effects of soil quality on the biodiversity of microinvertebrates. The intention behind sifting and grinding soil is to reach a consistency at which a carbon and nitrogen composition analysis can be performed. This analysis evaluates the organic matter and, thus, the overall quality of the soil. The overall goal of this experiment is to identify the cause of soil depletion and devise a plan to improve this issue both on-campus and beyond. As a result of having been recorded in a laboratory setting, this recording challenges the human nature dichotomy in that the human is shown to be working alongside nature. This research project evokes a need for the reevaluation of both the naturescape and soundscape as simple sounds symbolize the start of large restoration and conservation efforts.
The manipulation and commodification of nature in a modern and industrial society has placed a tremendous strain on the human relationship with nature due to an increasing amount of destruction and overuse. While the imposition of technology often yields harmful environmental effects, the soil shifting is an example of a symbiotic relationship between the biosphere and the technosphere. While the soil is manipulated by technology, this technology could reverse and prevent the effects of biological destruction through the human commodification of the naturescape. As Raja Shehadeh nostalgically wrote in Palestinian Walks: “By trying to record how the land felt and looked before this calamity, I hope to preserve, at least in words, what has been lost forever” (2007 pg. 3).
This is a recording of a metal water bottle being uncapped and filled with water from a water fountain. Most of the water fountains at Furman include a chamber for filling water bottles. These chambers are equipped with a downward-facing spout and a digital counter that tracks the amount of water bottles that have been filled since the fountain’s installation. This digital counter is an eco-friendly measure designed to incentivize students to carry water bottles.
The recording begins with a shrill squeaking noise, which is due to the removal of the water bottle cap. The side of the cap is lined with a thin ring of rubber, which rubs against the metal of the rim as it is unscrewed. The listener then hears the clank of the water bottle as it is placed inside the chamber. These initial dissonant sounds give way to the more serene noise of the water filling the bottle to the brim. Near the end of the recording, the water fountain begins to hum, adding further depth to the harmonic sounds of the water. The water bottle used in this recording is a small, insulated bottle made out of brushed steel, which lends a metallic quality to the overall sound.
This sonic event is noteworthy on several levels. Firstly, the filling of a water bottle encapsulates a human dependence on the natural world. Hydration is the most humbling human need; without water, humans perish in a matter of days. This recording also represents the harmony of the natural and the man-made. The clank of the water bottle is a staunchly anthropogenic noise, whereas the flow of the water is reminiscent of the natural world. While the sonic event in this recording may seem banal at first glance, the filling of a water bottle is a poignant reminder that human existence is wholly contingent upon the natural world. After all, “anthropogenic sounds and their relationship with the environment” compose the terrain of the ecoacoustic (Ozga, 2017, 416). It is through this merging of human and nature that we witness the harmony of ecoacoustics.